A lawsuit claiming an Alabama coal company executive paid paramilitary forces to kill three Colombian union leaders was revived Thursday when an appeals court ruled the victims’ children could sue in the U.S.
The mine operator, Drummond Company Inc., was cleared of any wrongdoing by jurors in Birmingham during a 2007 trial in a similar lawsuit brought by the union and the victims’ widows.
The new complaint claims a witness who was previously in jail in Colombia can now testify that he saw a Drummond executive give a briefcase full of cash to an illegal right-wing militia to have two of the union heads killed.
The company did not immediately return calls and e-mails.
A lower judge had dismissed the children’s lawsuit, saying they should have sued “on behalf” of their parents instead of seeking their own personal unspecified damages. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit disagreed.
“The complaint alleges an intricate and vindictive plot, orchestrated by the defendants, that ultimately led to the assassinations of the children’s fathers,” the panel wrote. “If true, such conduct establishes a violation of international law sufficient for purposes of triggering” liability under the federal law.
The lawsuit was filed by eight children of Valmore Locarno, Victor Orcasita and Gustavo Soler, who all worked at Drummond’s coal mine at La Loma. The children live in Colombia and Canada.
“I’m in touch with him and he is ready to testify,” said Terry Collingsworth, an attorney for the children.
Locarno, a maintenance worker and president of the local union, and Orcasita, another union official, were taken off a company bus outside the mine in 2001 and shot to death, authorities have said. Soler, who succeeded Locarno as the union president, was killed seven months later in a similar fashion.
The new lawsuit hinges on the testimony of Rafael Garcia, who claimed he saw Drummond’s top Colombian executive give the briefcase to an illegal right-wing militia. Garcia, who was in prison on corruption charges, has since been freed and is living in another country.